OMG, What’s In A Name — 3rd Commandment Sermon from Exodus 20:7

by Bobby Gilles

in Liturgy & Sermons

I preached this sermon at Sojourn Community Church (New Albany campus) as part of our Exodus sermon series on Sunday, October 14, 2015. Read my manuscript below or listen to the audio player. You can also hear it on iTunes, in the Sojourn New Albany podcast.


“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

Good morning. My name is Bobby Gilles; I’m on staff here. For the past few weeks we’ve been preaching through the Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus. Today we’re at Commandment #3.

For those of you who grew up in the church, this is the famous, “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain” verse, in the old King James translation.

Maybe your mom recited that verse a lot. If my brother was irritating me while I was trying to watch TV, and I finally said, “Oh my God, will you leave me alone!” it didn’t matter where my mom was in the house. She could have been a mile away, and she’d have somehow heard me, and instantly appeared in the doorway shouting,

“Robert Eugene Gilles, Jr! Don’t you TAKE the Lord’s name in vain!”

It was a big deal.

But despite the efforts of ten million moms, you still can’t go anywhere without hearing “God” or “Jesus” as profanity or slang. We’ve even reduced it down to initials, in our age of Twitter and texting. Now if you want to take the Lord’s name in vain, you just have to type OMG.

What’s the big deal?

They’re just words.

Look at the rest of the Ten Commandments – they make sense. Everyone gets, “You shall not murder,” right? Even if you’re not a Christian here this morning, you agree with that.

“You shall not steal.” Right?

“You shall not commit adultery.” We know these things.

Even, “Remember the Sabbath day.” God’s giving me a free day to rest? Sign me up!

But if I text you, “OMG, did you see the Colts game last night?” that gets me in trouble with God? That’s an offense worthy of being written in stone, next to “You shall not murder?”

Shakespeare famously wrote his character Juliet to say, in Romeo and Juliet,

“What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose,
By any other word would smell just as sweet.”

What’s in a name? What’s the big deal?

This must be a big deal because God says in the second half of this verse,

“for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” – Exodus 20:7

This is the only commandment besides the 2nd one that includes an, “Or else” at the end of it.


Is there something more to it? Maybe this verse doesn’t mean what we think it means. Or maybe it means more than we think it means.

What did this mean to Moses and the Israelites of Exodus, living 1400 years before the birth of Jesus? Were the Israelites going around, carving “OMG” on trees and rocks?

The Ten Commandments are about knowing God. And to know him is to love him, to worship him. To recognize him for who he is and what he has done for us. Remember he began with,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:2

Every commandment flows out of this one. He’s saying, “I’m different than all those false gods you heard about in Egypt. I’m different than all those tribal deities, who aren’t really gods at all. I’m the one who saved you; I’m the one who is real.”

So when he gets to this third commandment, he’s saying, “You can’t use my name the way people use the name of false gods.”

His name is his reputation. We still equate a person’s “name” with their reputation: When someone becomes famous for reasons we admire, we say, “She’s made quite a name for herself.” When someone becomes known for all the wrong reasons, we say, “He’s got a bad name in this town.”

Your name is the summary of everything you are. It’s your character, your reputation, your brand – it’s everything that people think and feel when they hear your name mentioned.

So what’s in a name? Everything.

Remember earlier in the Exodus story, when God appeared to Moses and Moses said, “Who are you?” God said, “I AM who I AM.”

He is the great “I AM,” the one who has always been and always will be, who doesn’t depend on anyone or anything else to exist. He’s the one who is not only within his creation but stands outside and above it – he’s the creator. The weight of the universe is in his name.

He made quite a name for himself.

1400 years later when Jesus came to earth, he identified himself as this great “I AM.” He even reached back into Exodus and said, “You know Moses, the guy who wrote the first five books of the Bible? He was writing about me.” Jesus, who had only existed in a human body for 30 years, was saying, “I’m God in the flesh.”

He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he demonstrated his power over creation. He never sinned in his entire life. Then he died for our sin, rose from the grave, and ascended into heaven.

He made quite a name for himself.

His followers taught that God the Father had given Jesus the name above every name, and that everything we say or do should be said and done, “In the name of Jesus.”

What’s in a name? Everything.


So how do we misuse the name of God? In other words, how do we disparage and dishonor his reputation? First, yes, it’s irreverent to use God’s name as slang. You expected me to say that, and I won’t disappoint you.

Isn’t it interesting that out of all the famous people in history, the only names that get misused as slang or curse are “God” and “Jesus”? If you stub your toe, why are we tempted to shout, “Jesus Christ” instead of “George Washington!”

Could it be that Satan is less interested in the reputation of George than the reputation of Jesus?

But there are many other ways to misuse it, all of which are saying, “God, I don’t want you – I only want what an association with your name can do for me right now.” What misusing God’s name reveals about us is that we desire what God can give us or do for us far more than we desire God himself.

For instance, in Moses’ day people would take an oath in the name of a god to get away with a lie. This still happens today. Have you ever felt like someone was lying to you, and then he says, “I swear to God …”

And you still think he must be lying, but you think, “I don’t know, though – he swore to God.”

What’s going on here? The liar is claiming God’s reputation for honesty in order to mask his own dishonesty.

Second, the Egyptians in Moses’ day used the names of their gods to get power for themselves – primarily by calling down blessings or curses on their enemies. God’s saying, “I’m not your genie in a bottle.”

1400 years later, people were misusing the name of Jesus in a similar way. Seven brothers tried to drive a demon out of a man, using the name of Jesus like a magic incantation – like “hocus pocus” or “abracadabra.”

They said, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, come out!”

They wanted the power over demons that the name of Jesus brought. They wanted the reputation and authority of Jesus. But they didn’t want a relationship with Jesus.

So the demon said, “I know Jesus. And I know about Paul. But who are you?”

Then the man possessed by the demon beat them so badly that they ran from the house, naked and bleeding. Now, that’s worse than getting chewed out by your mom.

In our day, using the name of Jesus to gain power over demons isn’t very common. Using it to gain the favor of people, however, is. We live in a city, a state and a nation where nearly everyone claims to be a Christian, almost as if it’s a birthright.

Even in a culture that’s increasingly hostile to the gospel, it’s still popular to claim Christianity on many occasions. It’s so prevalent today that atheists say that this must have also been what was going on in the early days of the church, after Jesus died: his disciples made up a story that Jesus rose from the grave, in order to scam people and become rich and famous.

Of course, that claim doesn’t hold up. Christianity didn’t become popular for hundreds of years. Christ’s followers were so convinced that He had actually risen from the grave that they were willing to be beaten for it, fired from their jobs for it, kicked out of their families for it, ostracized from society for it, thrown in jail for it, and even killed for it.

What would give them that much boldness? Why wouldn’t they scream, “Okay, okay, we made the whole thing up!” as they were being tortured?

They had seen the resurrected Lord with their own eyes! And not just as a tortured, subhuman creature like a zombie, but as a glorious, powerful body that would never die again – and he promised to raise them, too.

And because of their testimony, the gospel spread throughout the world. So today in America it is far more popular to call yourself a Christian than to identify with any other religion, or with atheism, or with either political party or any sports team. More people will say, “I’m a Christian” than will identify with any other name.

And we misuse it anytime we use it to make ourselves look good, or give ourselves an advantage over someone. Politicians invoke God’s name all the time – they’re never more religious than when they’re on the campaign trail.

And some of the most evil institutions of the world come from politicians who use God’s name to feed their evil desires.

In God’s name, politicians endorsed slavery in the American South.

In God’s name, politicians endorsed Nazism in Germany.

In God’s name, politicians endorsed Apartheid in South Africa.

But it’s usually not that dramatic. Many candidates would have us believe that God endorses their tax plan, their education plan, their health care plan, their immigration plan.

Or what about the young single guy who pretends to be interested in God so he can win the affections of a Christian girl? Or the young Christian guy who is having trouble winning a certain Christian girl, so he tells her, “God spoke to me, and he told me we’re supposed to get married”?

And what about me, preaching to you right now? I’m preaching Christ, but there’s this other motive in my heart. I want you to like me, to admire me, to say, “Wow, he can really preach.” And even as I admit this to you, a part of me is hoping you’ll be impressed at how humble I must be, to admit this.

What’s in a name? Everything.

And how can I carry the weight of everything on my back?

The very thing I want to do – to honor and magnify the name of the Lord – I can’t do – not from a perfectly pure motive. And the very thing I don’t want to do – misuse it to make myself look good – I keep doing! I can’t live up to it, no matter how I try!

How many times have you tried your hardest to live up to the name of Christ?

To do great things for him?

To overcome a bad habit?

And you failed.

Or you succeeded, and people praised you for it, so you kept doing it, and earning more praise, and then woke up one day to realize you’d begun to do it more for the praise of man than the name of Christ? Even in your success, you failed to live up to his name.

How could any of us ever live up to this name above all names? If the way to prevent misuse of God’s name is to live up to it, we’re all in a lot of trouble.

(long pause)


Maybe God’s not saying, “Live up to it,” but, “Live out of it.” Maybe it’s not a status to attain but an identity to accept. The prophet Isaiah says this, about the destiny of God’s people:

The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
Isaiah 62:2

And what is this new name? Isaiah spells it out, just a few verses later:

As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah 62:5

Did you catch that? “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride”? The new name God gives you is his name! There are so many ways to misuse the Lord’s name that there is only one way to use it correctly: and that’s to take his name as your own.

We can’t live up to his name, but we can live out of his name, by living as part of his family. When we take his name as the bride of Christ, he gives us a wedding gift – His Holy Spirit, living inside of us. The Spirit empowers us from the inside out to do all things in the name of Jesus, as he teaches us through God’s Word and through each other – this gift of spirit-led community, where we encourage each other to live out our identity.

So, “What’s in a name?” isn’t the key question. It’s not “what,” it’s “who.” Who bears THE name – the name above every name?

Who is in the family of God? Who bears THE name?

(Points to various members across the room) You. You. You. And you. You. You.You, me, we – this family, God’s family! We’ve taken his name, our lives are hidden in Christ, and we are heirs with him in the Father’s kingdom, where we’ll live forever, and our best days are never behind us.

What’s in a name? Everything. Who bears THE name? We do.

So how is God inviting us to respond? Rest in his name – you have nothing to prove, you don’t need to make a name for yourself, and you don’t need to use his name to bring your small plans for yourself to pass. He’s got bigger and better plans for you. There is nothing bigger than being part of the Bride of Christ.

Second, God invites us – through his Great Commission – to show the world there is something much greater than any fleeting advantage that they can get by misusing God’s name. They can bear it.

Imagine the possibilities this opens up for the people of our city. For our neighbors. Our co-workers and fellow students.

You know, like the man you avoid because he says “Jesus Christ” as slang 50 times a day, and it offends you.

Or the lady that you gripe out once or twice a week, because she’s always saying things like, “Oh my God, you would not believe the sale going on at Kohl’s right now.”

What if we were less about condemnation, and more about invitation?

What if, in the midst of all their striving to make a name for themselves, and all the pain and disappointment that brings, we invite them into the good life, where they take the family name and begin a relationship that let’s them say, for real, “My God.”

Maybe this means you meet with your coworker on lunch breaks to journey through the gospel together. Maybe you invite them here on a Sunday. Or if that’s too big a step for them, invite them to

Trunk Or Treat – get some candy and enjoy chili dinner here in this room. The first step doesn’t have to be a big step – it just has to be a step.

The average first-time guest at a church was invited seven times before they finally came. Sure, some will come after the first or second invitation but some take much longer than that. So don’t grow weary; keep looking for opportunities to say, “This family has more room at the table.”


Today’s text is an invitation to know God in an intimate way, just as it was an invitation to those Israelites in the book of Exodus.

But while they were saved from Egypt, we are saved from death.

While they received the Law, we receive the Life.

While they were fed manna from the sky, which soured after a day, we are fed the bread of heaven, (holds communion bread up before the people), which lasts forever.

On the night that He was betrayed, after giving thanks, Jesus broke a loaf of bread like this one, saying, “This is my body, broken for you.”

Then he took a cup of wine like this one, and said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Drink this in remembrance of me until I come again.”

You’ve misused the name of the Lord, and he didn’t hold you guiltless. Instead, he took your guilt upon himself, dying on a cross for your sin. But you’re not just a pardoned criminal.

If that is the extent of your amazement at the cross, I’ve got news that will really blow your mind: you’re not just a pardoned criminal — He took you into his family and gave you his name!

One day he will return, and graves will open up as he gathers his family to his side. Then every eye will see, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, “OH, MY GOD!”

Many will shout it in jubilation and many will scream it in terror, but none will utter it casually.

What’s in a name? Everything. Who bears THE name? We do.

Reflect on this as you come forward, tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into either wine or juice as your conscience permits. The cups with wine will have twine tied around them. And we have a gluten-free station right over here in the far corner.

If you’re not a Christian, we ask that you don’t come forward to take this symbolic meal, because it symbolizes a family commitment that you’ve never accepted. Instead, I invite you to pray at your seat to accept God as your Father, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Then we can prepare you to be baptized and join us in this feast in the weeks to come.

Let’s pray.

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